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RACE BEHIND THE SCENES: Trainers doing it for the thrills
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RACE BEHIND THE SCENES: Trainers doing it for the thrills
on 11 September 2020
Aisling Crowe spoke to four racehorse trainers about their past, present and future

Sean Aherne

Shanakill, Conna, Co Cork

What sparked your love of racing?

I was always interested in racing as a child, my father went to a point-to-point every Sunday, but we mostly had greyhounds when we were small, then got into ponies and it grew from there. Around here is really pointing country and it just grew from there.

Why did you become a trainer?

We got a point-to-point horse for ourselves and I trained it, and had my first winner here in Tallow, which is my local tack. I didn’t intend to be a trainer and just had a few pointers and then a few more, and they were lucky for me and it sort of took off from that.

How long have you been training?

I have my licence about 20 years.

How many horses do you have?

Between young horses, pointers and jumpers I’d have about 12-15 horses.

What’s your ambition in racing?

I would like to train as many winners as I could and be as happy as I could, and I think if you are training winners then you’re happy! Anyone involved in this game would love to have a Cheltenham winner and I’m no different there. I had a horse second, just beaten in the four miler and I would love to get a winner.

How do you keep motivated, especially this year?

I ride out three or four every day and I enjoy working with horses, that’s a big part of it. Having winners keeps you going too, you get such a buzz out of having a winner and there’s the dream always of getting a good one.

What has been your best day in racing so far?

Ballyhampshire Boy was a very good horse for me, he was second in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown but terribly unlucky too. He gave us some very good days. Beantown’s run in the amateur race at Cheltenham was a special day too.

Why should an owner have a horse in your yard?

We have very good facilities and I am very lucky to have great people working here; we do our best for every horse and it is a happy kind of place where the horses get the individual attention they need from people who are interested in them and enjoy their work.

What’s your favourite racecourse?

My local track, Cork.

Have you a favourite sport, other than racing?

Hurling. Even though I live on the Cork-Waterford border, I was born and reared in Tallow and am a Waterford man. I’m interested in soccer as well.

What’s your favourite TV show/film/Netflix series?

Irish comedies. The Irish are witty and good comedians.

Do you enjoy music?

60s music, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison.

What would be your perfect meal?

A good steak with pepper sauce and garlic potatoes.

Fergal Birrane

Killala, Co Mayo

What sparked your love of racing?

I studied Equine Science after my Leaving Cert and then became a riding instructor and taught with Philip Scott in Knockmore, his father Bernie was a very good jockey and they were involved in point-to-points. My cousin Padraig Judge is an international showjumper and I was involved in showing, I won the working hunter championship at the RDS one year and I am a dressage judge as well.

Why did you become a trainer?

Through the Scotts really; I took out an amateur licence to ride in bumpers and it grew from there. I was caretaker of Killala House and had a few NH horses and pointers in for people so when Daniel McAuliffe, who had horses in training in England bought the house, I already had horses in the yard. I took out a professional licence on the flat, and started training in house for him.

How long have you been training?

Since 2003, but this is the first year I’ve been taking in outside horses from the public on the flat.

How many horses do you have?

At the moment we have around nine horses in training but there is room for a few more and I want to thank Caroline Townend at HRI for the work she is doing in promoting trainers and ownership opportunities.

What’s your ambition in racing?

For our horses, I want to build up the quality and keep improving all the time and get in more and better horses. I’d love to employ more local people here in north Mayo, get people interested in working with racehorses and to bring in more local owners and syndicates.

How do you keep motivated, especially this year?

Getting a win gives you a great lift and it keeps you going each day. When you have a winner you want to go again and you are always aiming for the next one, so that keeps you looking forward and keeps the desire burning. The winter season at Dundalk is our aim so that gives you something to focus on.

What has been your best day in racing so far?

Vormir’s win in Roscommon last month was a great day for us and of course Glenmore’s first win in Dundalk was fantastic.

Why should an owner have a horse in your yard?

It’s a great way for local people to get into racing, you can get a syndicate together with family or friends, have your horse trained in Mayo and come watch your horse work on the beach. Everything is available locally for owners to get involved.

What’s your favourite racecourse?

Dundalk. We put a lot of work into it and the surface suits our horses. They are very good to us in Dundalk and let us keep the horses stabled there overnight after the races so we don’t have to drive home to Killala, it’s the furthest course away from us but I love it there. Our local track in Ballinrobe is another place I really like, the management do a great job and the ground is always safe.

Have you a favourite sport, other than racing?

Showjumping; I love horses really. I take the week of the Dublin Horse Show off every year and we go to the RDS, that’s my holiday so I missed it this year.

What’s your favourite TV show/film/Netflix series?

Countryfile and Ear to the Ground.

Do you enjoy music?

I do, I used to play the mandolin and I could probably still play a tune.

What would be your perfect meal?

Steak and chips.

Sarah Dawson

Banbridge, Co Down

What sparked your love of racing?

I went racing as a child with my father and that got me hooked! I was an eventer but I always appreciated the quality of a thoroughbred. Even as a child when I knew nothing about it, I loved thoroughbreds and their quality. Even now I hunt quite a lot on an ex-racer and he is the best thing I have ever hunted.

Why did you become a trainer?

I really enjoyed the fitness side of eventing and working with younger horses, seeing their progression. I rode in point-to-points in England and started training pointers too and then came back to Northern Ireland.

How long have you been training?

Since 2009.

How many horses do you have?

We have seven in training at the moment, both flat and National Hunt.

What’s your ambition in racing?

To keep on training winners and to have the best quality of horses in the yard that I can afford. Down the line I would love to have a stakes winner.

How do you keep motivated, especially this year?

The horses, trying to get the best out of them and doing the best for every horse.

What has been your best day in racing?

I think it has to be last Saturday when our two-year-old filly Diamond Eyes won the auction maiden at Navan. It was impressive how she put the race to bed. It’s so hard to win a maiden in Ireland, and we only have two two-year-olds in training.

Why should an owner have a horse in your yard?

It’s a small family-run yard, so it is more accessible and we have close relationships with our owners. There is a great camaraderie amongst our owners, they are all delighted for the yard and each other when we have a winner. There’s a great social side as well, the Diamond Eyes syndicate are coming around tomorrow (Sunday) for a socially distanced Sunday lunch.

What’s your favourite racecourse?

I think Navan is there after Saturday! And our local tracks Down Royal and Downpatrick.

Have you a favourite sport, other than racing?

Rugby; my son Edward plays and my father was president of our local club.

What’s your favourite TV show/film/Netflix series??My children tell me I am addicted to Escape to the Chateau.

Do you enjoy music?

Live music is my favourite hobby, I love going to concerts. I’ve been to see George Ezra twice and he was brilliant.

What would be your perfect meal?

My last supper would be seafood and champagne!

Lorna Fowler

Summerhill, Co Meath

What sparked your love of racing?

It was very much part of my life always; my mother Susan Bradburne trained in Fife and my father was from a racing background. She took out a full licence in 1988 and my brother Mark and I were very involved in everything in the yard. My father was an amateur jockey and rode a lot of the horses my mother trained. I rode as an amateur for a number of years and Mark was an amateur first before becoming a successful professional.

Why did you become a trainer?

When I was younger I thought I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a trainer. During university I did a lot of riding, both in point-to-points and on the track, and in Newmarket I rode out for Nick Littmoden and Henry Cecil, which was great. I also worked for Ferdy Murphy and Francois Doumen in France and was always getting experience in racing, while I was working in the media; first for the Racing Channel and At The Races and then for Newmarket racecourses. We moved back to Ireland when Harry’s father John, who was a very successful trainer, died and his mother took over the licence and had great success with the likes of Banjaxed Girl. When she died in 2013 I picked up the licence.

How long have you been training?

Seven years.

How many horses do you have?

There are 15-20 riding out but that includes the three and four-year-olds.

What’s your ambition in racing?

My ambition with my existing horses is to get them to fulfil their full potential, some of them could take us to a higher level and that’s very much what drives me, to get them to do their best.

How do you keep motivated, especially this year?

You are always looking to the future with horses, and for us Politesse, Colonel Mustard and Lady Heath have shown enough already that we can think of the days ahead with them. I enjoy working with the horses, assessing them every day and seeing how much I can progress them. Each horse is an individual and I enjoy trying to get the best out of every one.

What has been your best day in racing so far?

I have been so lucky to have many good days in racing in different ways but my earliest good day, and the one that makes me happy for so many reasons is my memory of General Chandos winning for my mother and ridden by my father. It was the start of everything really.

Why should an owner have a horse in your yard?

I like to think that Rahinston is a great place for owners, they are always very welcome here. It’s a beautiful setting which is really important for the horses’ heads to keep them happy and straight so they can give their all. We have a sand canter, we have had a water walkway put in and the grass gallops are the jewel in the crown. They used to be part of the old point-to-point course. We have seven-furlong and 10-furlong gallops and there are long canters for miles and miles so while routine is very important for horses, it’s also important to be able to give them variety within that.

What’s your favourite racecourse?

Thurles has been very lucky for me and I love Leopardstown, they do a great job with everything.

Have you a favourite sport, other than racing?

I love watching tennis and, strangely, I like having golf on in the background!

What’s your favourite TV show/film/Netflix series?

We are watching The Fall and it is gripping.

Do you enjoy music?

I listen to the radio and if someone makes me a playlist I enjoy that too. I love going to concerts as well.

What would be your perfect meal?

A good roast chicken with all the trimmings.

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